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Health Groups: Don't Let Tobacco Company "Snuff Out" Cigarette Taxes

August 1, 2006

Tobacco producer R. J. Reynolds Company recently announced it will spend $40 million to defeat anti-smoking ballot initiatives, including South Dakota's Initiative Measure Two, which would increase state tobacco taxes if it passes this fall. The company claims smokers pay an unfair tax burden and should not face price hikes. But members of the South Dakota coalition "Tax Tobacco: Save Money, Save Lives" say higher cigarette prices will save lives as well as taxpayer dollars.

Jennifer Stalley of the American Cancer Society says the tobacco company's own documents indicate that higher cigarette prices are the most effective smoking deterrents.

"Obviously the industry doesn't want to increase the price and reduce use, because they lose buyers. It's not a big surprise to us that they would be willing to invest this much money to defeat these initiatives across the United States."

Darrin Smith of the American Heart Association of South Dakota adds that raising the tobacco tax would be especially helpful for groups at risk of becoming smokers, including teenagers and pregnant women.

"It's extremely effective in getting our young people to never begin smoking," says Smith, "And we have some of the highest numbers of smokers among pregnant women in the nation. Those groups are impacted significantly when the price of tobacco products goes up. The tobacco companies know that, and they know it cuts into their profits."

The coalition, made up of nonprofit groups and medical associations, estimates that if Initiative Measure Two passes, more than 11,000 kids in South Dakota will never take up smoking, and at least 5,500 adult smokers will finally be able to kick their tobacco habits.

Stalley says that should result in some impressive financial benefits statewide: "We're looking at saving the state of South Dakota literally hundreds of millions of dollars in long-term healthcare savings. The revenue generated from a tobacco tax increase also will help pay for some programs that otherwise would not be funded."

Initiative Measure Two is a proposal to boost South Dakota's cigarette tax by one dollar per pack, and more than triple the tax on smokeless tobacco. The latter, which is now 10 percent of the wholesale price per pack, would be raised to 35 percent if the measure passes.

David Law/Chris Thomas, Public News Service - SD